Kenneth Clarke: UK can't ignore Euro court decision, but we can push for reform

THE government is to push for reform of the European Court of Human Rights, UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has said.

However, he said there is no prospect of the government pulling Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights or defying the rulings of the court in Strasbourg.

Rows over prisoners being given the right to vote and the right to appeal for removal from the sex offenders register have revived calls from some Conservative right-wingers for the UK to withdraw from the convention.

Mr Clarke said he will seek to initiate reform of the court to rebalance its relations with national courts when the UK takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November.

He said it would be "startling" for any British government to say that it will not comply with the rulings of any court whose jurisdiction it recognises.

He was dismissive of the overwhelming House of Commons vote earlier this month for the government to maintain the blanket ban on prisoners' voting.

The "best legal advice" remained that Britain can comply with the European court by giving prisoners serving less than four years the vote, said Mr Clarke.

• Background: Ever-evolving face of justice

"We are considering the debate we had in the House of Commons and considering what the legal position is, but everybody has said we will of course comply with the law.

"It would be startling if we had a British government which said we aren't going to comply with legal judgments."

Mr Clarke also brushed off suggestions his Cabinet position was under threat, insisting that all of his policies had been discussed with Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg and won the collective approval of the coalition Cabinet.

"Obviously, when I was appointed, it was decided in this government to have a moderate justice secretary," said Mr Clarke. "Nobody thought I was from the hanging and flogging wing of the party.

"I personally think it would be quite a step to suddenly swing to the right and to go back to the kind of law and order politics where each party accuses the other of being soft on crime. Every sensible person is tough on crime."

Mr Clarke added: "There is no question of this government denouncing the European Convention on Human Rights.

"It is part of our programme to continue to adhere to that.

"But there is a good case, I think, for reforming the court.

"When we get the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November, I hope and I intend that we will take a lead in trying to get this court to reform itself and quite a lot of other countries share what I call more reasonable doubts about all this."

The government will shortly launch its planned commission on the creation of a British bill of rights, but Mr Clarke said it was not yet clear exactly how such a law would interact with the European convention.

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